Fresh off a huge victory over the white-hot Pacific Division leading Bakersfield Condors, the San Diego Gulls picked up another valuable two points in Manitoba yesterday to stay in playoff position in the suddenly very tight race for the Calder Cup.
The Gulls have not enjoyed the same consistent success that saw them win 8 of 11 games in January and 7 of 11 in February largely due to an almost complete roster reshuffle that took place at the trade deadline - where Troy Terry and Max Jones were called up out of necessity, followed by Jacob Larsson soon after. Injuries to the Gulls themselves have not helped matters either.
The latest injury updates aren't really that helpful or positive, but are listed as follows in order of closest to returning:
Trevor Murphy: I didn't see exactly what has brought down the most recent Gull blue liner but my best guess is some sort of shoulder injury. That is all I can offer, and I have no idea how long he might be out- but hopefully not too long.
Josh Mahura: This is a total guess... but given how long Mahura has been out now and the lack of update as to whether or not the injury is season-ending, I am going to go ahead and assume that he can hopefully return in the next week or so.
Patrick Eaves: I have no idea whether Eaves is actually injured or just taking time. He announced on Twitter on the 8th of March that he has adopted a child from China, so maybe becoming a Dad for the fourth time is taking priority over this nightmare season, and fair enough.
On February 19th, I became a dad for the 4th time! Welcome to our family Ziggy, you are perfect and were worth the wait pic.twitter.com/wP77CoyKpL— RealPatrickEaves (@Patrick_Eaves) March 8, 2019
Luke Gazdic: Gazdic is another mystery. I guess we will find out for sure against the Reign next weekend. Eakins would not hesitate to put Gazdic in the line up as insurance against the rough and tumble Inland Empire rivals.
Deven Sideroff: As previously stated in the last update - Sideroff is out for the season. Again tough break.
Jake Dotchin: Jake returned from 19 games out with an upper body injury. I had assumed he would be back for the Reign game, but he was a pleasant surprise in the line-up and was a big part of the most recent win over the Manitoba Moose. Possibly the most fun and encouraging sign was when former-Gull Ryan White tried to goad Dotchin after he scored the lone Moose goal by making “fat” gestures and rubbing his stomach. Dotchin responded in kind as he skated past the Moose bench after he scored the empty-net goal to give the Gulls the win. Classic Dotchin.
Ben Street: I almost forgot that Street had been absent from the line up! I feel both terrible and awful. Street had been putting together a nice little scoring run before he went down. He appears to be back to full strength, and although his impact was not as great as Dotchin’s in the most recent game, he was definitely a welcome addition given Kossila had not made it back from the Ducks yet.
As of today the Gulls are still in a playoff spot and are currently in a three-way tie for second with the Barracuda and Eagles in points, but sit third with a 0.603 points percentage - which would place them in a first round matchup with the aforementioned Barracuda without home ice advanage. Ever wary of what happened last year - when the Gulls unceremoniously fell out of a playoff spot at season’s end - the only teams that have a real shot of potentially causing a repeat of that nightmare are the Tuscon Roadrunners and Stockton Heat.
The Heat are the very long-odds bet, needing to win all nine of their remaining games while hoping all three of Colorado, San Diego and San Jose somehow go on an 8- (or more) game losing streak.
The Roadrunners are the more real threat. Just nine points back from the Gulls, Barracuda & Eagles right now, they have the ability to seize their destiny much the same way that San Jose did last season when they snuck into the playoffs at the expense of the Gulls. Fresh off back-to-back wins over the struggling Heat, the Roadrunners face the Barracuda twice and close out the season facing the Gulls twice also - that is four games that are essentially worth four points each.
San Diego, meanwhile, have the Barracuda three more times, the Reign twice and the Heat once. Thankfully they do not have any further dates with the very-scary-right-now Eagles, which the Roadrunners and Heat both do.
Additionally the Ducks final games of the season is April 5th - the Gulls still have three games after that. The Barracuda at home on the 10th and a back to back in Tuscon on the 13th and 14th (De Ja Vu) where they will hopefully have a full complement of Max Jones, Troy Terry, Jacob Larsson, potentially healthy Brendan Guhle and maybe - a risky maybe because he needs to clear Waivers first - captain Jaycob Megna.
Of the five teams battling for playoff spots in the Pacific, only the Gulls and Condors are guaranteed their bubble players back for the playoff run. The Barracuda’s parent club are well ensconced in the NHL playoff race as a potential Cup favorite. Both the Eagles and Roadrunners clubs are fighting to squeak in. As it stands right now, the Coyotes are the more likely bet, so you can expect the Eagles squad to get even stronger down the stretch - which is one of the many reasons I would not want the Gulls to face them in the first round.
Potential Playoff Match-ups
As stated, the Gulls absolutely do not want to draw the Eagles as their first round match-up, and not only because they play the most boring hockey imaginable. They are built for the playoffs - with size, speed and an annoyingly aggressive penalty kill style, the Eagles feel like they are already playing playoff hockey - well at least those two last games at home against the Gulls did. Mistake free, no creativity, wait for the opponent to make the mistake or pressure them into making one: that's their game plan and it’s working. The first year team are currently on 9-game win run.
UPDATE: They just got smoked by San Jose today to the tune of 9-0. Both goaltenders for the Eagles got lit up, so it’s hard to say what happened exactly- but I’m not complaining!
So despite the Eagles showing a game of weakness today (in epic meltdown fashion), they are the only team of the three that the Gulls have a losing record against - thanks in huge part to getting their offense completely shutdown in San Diego at the start of March. They finished the season series 3-4-1.
As demonstrated recently, the Gulls can actually hang with the Condors and have a 6-2-1 record against them thus far on the season with a game left to play.
Similarly the Barracuda have been unexpected easy beats this season - despite their holding the division leading for much of the early going. The Gulls have a 5-2-0 record against them with three critical games left in the series. San Diego have enjoyed some high scoring blowout victories and their open ice style possession game matches up against the Barracudas open puck moving style perfectly.
In conclusion - the Barracuda would be the ideal match-up, but for that to work both the Gulls and Barracuda need to either hold or swap their current positions (ideally for the Gulls) in the second and third spot to leave the Eagles to slug it out with the Condors in the first round.
Leading The Way
With all the roster upheaval over this year one man has kept his quietly impressive season intact. Sam Carrick now leads the team in scoring with 51 points in 52 games, good for 24th in the league. Without Jaycob Megna since early February, Carrick has assumed team captaincy responsibilities and has been the engine that has kept the club running all through the injuries, call ups and trades. Carrick is in the final year of his two-year deal signed when it looked like he might get a look with the Ducks as a fourth line center. Hopefully he is happy to stay in San Diego as their new Captain next year given it looks like Megna has graduated permanently to the big club now.
It is only fitting that the player currently second in scoring on the team behind Carrick is Chase De Leo. The fourth-year-pro has 44 points in 56 games and has already surpassed all of his previous AHL season records in assists and points, while being currently two goals shy of surpassing his rookie AHL total of 19. Much like Carrick - De Leo has been a constant force this year; he missed Blandisi after he was dealt in the midst of a point streak but he has been an ever reliable presence on the penalty kill and in the final moments of a tight game. It is hard to believe that this is his first year with the Gulls, because it feels like he has been a part of the club’s make-up for much longer.
Revisiting The Trades
On that note - let us look back at how De Leo was acquired, among other new-this-year to the Gulls. We already touched on this a month or so into the season when I pointed out that based on De Leo’s impressive numbers as compared to Kerdiles’ lack thereof - it already appeared as though the Ducks had won that trade. Well, checking in on Kerdiles - he still does not appear to have played any further games since that last update, meaning he has either suffered a season ending injury or is not playing for some other reason.
Meanwhile Jo Blandisi saw four games with the Penguins after his trade, going scoreless before joining the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins where he is currently fourth on the team in scoring with 38 points in 44 games.
Perhaps by coincidence or perhaps as originally planned, those numbers would place Blandisi fourth on the Gulls in scoring also were it not for Justin Kloos who beats him by one point in 48 games. Kloos has also been a welcome addition on the penalty kill while recently displaying some very good chemistry with Kalle Kossila. Pontus Aberg meanwhile is struggling with the Wild - scoring just the one goal and adding five assists in 18 games.
Similarly Giovanni Fiore has continued his poor season since joining the Roadrunners - totaling just 7 points in 25 games since the deal that landed Trevor Murphy with San Diego, giving him 18 points in 48 games on the year. Murphy - while currently injured - is 10th on the Gulls in scoring, first on the team among blue liners and 32nd in the league for defencemen with 28 points in 56 games.
Last week I updated on the potential Black Aces to join the Gulls. This week the Junior regular season ended as did some of the College action. So how does it look for the Black Aces now?
Brent Gates Jr.
The co-captain of the Minnesota Golden Gophers had his season and career with the Gophers ended by Notre Dame on Saturday night in a heart breaking overtime loss off the back off a power-play awarded by a controversial penalty call. The Ducks 2015 third-round pick finished the year with 31 points in 38 games. Now that his season is over, he is able to sign either an amateur tryout or even an entry level contract, but it remains to be seen what the Ducks plan to do with the Grand Rapids native.
Comtois continued his torrid pace since our last update and finished the regular season with 48 points in 25 games for the Drummondville Voltigeurs, a 1.92 points per game pace. For comparison, he finished last season with 85 points in 54 games, a 1.57 PPG. His Voltigeurs begin their playoff run this Friday against the Gatineau Olympiques.
Morand and the Halifax Mooseheads finished atop their conference - drawing the Quebec Remparts in their first round match-up. Morand finished the regular season with 70 points in 62 games - unable to surpass any of the games, goals, assists or points totals of the previous year, but keeping relatively close to the 1.15 PPG level he set last year with a 1.13 PPG effort.
Groulx finished the year strong and ended up with an impressive 80 points in 65 games. Surpassing the goals, assists and points totals of his draft year, his 1.23 PPG has left an impressive mark. Perhaps overshadowed by Comtois’ stellar year, it should be noted that Groulx’s 80 points is only 5 points less than Comtois’ total last year in eleven fewer games played. As previously stated, he has one more year left of Junior eligiblity while assisting Morand on his last playoff run with the Moose-heads.
The now-twenty-year-old 2018 6th-round pick ended the year with 50 points in 61 games with the Charlottetown Islanders, which makes him third on his team in scoring and first among blue-liners. His Islanders have home ice advantage in a 4th/5th matchup with Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in what looks to be a close series. Should his Islanders bow out, look for Drew to sign his ELC with the Ducks and join the Gulls on their playoff run.
Olson finished the regular season with 70 points in 62 games, second on his team in scoring and breaking all of his previous WHL scoring records. His Tri-City Americans have drawn a first round matchup with the Everett Silvetips led by top ranked 2019 NHL entry draft goaltender Dustin Wolf. As winners of the first wild card and facing the American Division winners, the Americans are the definitive underdog. I maintain my previous statement that of all the Juniors who could join the Gulls first, it is likely to be Olson.
The Gulls have a one last game in Manitoba on Tuesday before heading home to take on the Reign Saturday night.